Sunday, July 22, 2012

The joys of crowdsourcing or: If it looks like Herzl, maybe it is

Last week we launched an experimental project of putting online old photos we've got lying around in boxes, in the hope that someone out there knows more about the people in them than we do. We scanned five pictures, put them up, and waited.

Four days.

That was all it took for the first two identifications. Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out the fellows in the old photos in the dusty boxes in the State Archives are actually figures of some historical significance. Not that we'd have had any problem in learning that they were "merely" somebody's grandparents, mind you, but it just so happens that their names already appear in the archives, only we didn't know enough to connect the faces to the names.

First there's the distinguished-looking tall man with the Herzlian beard.


He was Dr. Yitzchak (Isidor) Schalit, 1871-1954. Born in the Ukraine, he spent a number of years in Vienna, where he served as the personal secretary of... Theodore Herzl. In 1938 the Nazis took over Austria, and he escaped to Mandatory Palestine.

The second man our readers identified for us was Prof. Josef Klausner, (1875-1958).
Klausner was a famous Jerusalem historian, who wrote about messianism and Jesus among other things. He was an important supporter of the right-wing Revisionist movement headed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. His neighbor, the Nobel literature laureate Shai Agnon, wrote acidly about him in one of his novels. His nephew, Amoz Oz, wrote about him at some length in his monumental Tale of Love and Darkness - and if you haven't ever read that book, shame on you.

The funny thing about identifying Klausner's picture is that if only we had thought of it, we could have recognized him from his pictures on his (Hebrew) Wikipedia page. For that, however, we'd have had to know whose picture it was...

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